Five Army personnel were killed and another was seriously injured on Thursday after their vehicle caught fire following a terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir's Poonch, the Army said.
Following the incident, an NIA team has been sent to Poonch. It has been reported that an NIA forensic team from Delhi will also reach the spot.
The deceased soldiers have been identified as Havildar Mandeep Singh, Lance Naik Debashish Baswal, Lance Naik Kulwant Singh, Sepoy Harkrishan Singh and Sepoy Sewak Singh All of them were from a Rashtriya Rifles unit deployed for counterterror operations.
Army Chief Gen Manoj Pande has briefed Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on the incident.
"Anguished by the tragedy in Poonch District (J&K), where the Indian Army has lost its brave soldiers after a truck caught fire. In this tragic hour, my thoughts are with the bereaved families," the defence minister tweeted.
All about the incident
The Army said the vehicle the soldiers were travelling in came under fire from unidentified terrorists and it caught fire because of likely use of grenades.
"Today, at approximately 1500 hours, one Army vehicle, moving between Bhimber Gali and Poonch in the Rajauri sector was fired on by unidentified terrorists, taking advantage of heavy rains and low visibility in the area," the Army said.
"The vehicle caught fire, due to likely use of grenades by terrorists," it said.
The five personnel of the Rashtriya Rifles Unit deployed for counterterrorist operations in this area have unfortunately lost their lives in the incident, it said. The Army said another soldier was seriously injured and he was evacuated immediately to the Army hospital at Rajouri.
The Army's 16 Corps, based in Nagrota, said the deceased soldiers are: Havildar Mandeep Singh, Lance Naik Debashish Baswal, Lance Naik Kulwant Singh, Sepoy Harkrishan Singh and Sepoy Sewak Singh. "The Whitenight corps stand in solidarity with the bereaved families," it said in a tweet.
Four of the five soldiers are from Punjab -- Mandeep Singh (Chankoian Kacan village), Harkrishan Singh (Talwandi Barth village), Kulwant Singh (Charik), Sewak Singh (Bagha) -- while Debashish Baswal is from Odisha's Algum Samil Khandayat.
Sources said officials saw bullet marks on the vehicle and also recovered fragments of grenades confirming it was a terror attack.
Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha said he was anguished at the loss of lives of the brave soldiers. "Their rich service to the nation will never be forgotten. My thoughts are with the bereaved families," he said in a tweet.
The Army said operations are underway to catch the perpetrators.
In an initial statement, the Army said the five personnel were killed after their vehicle caught fire, adding further details are being ascertained.
Later in the evening, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal staged a protest on the Tawi bridge in the Jammu city and raised anti-Pakistan slogans.
Officials said traffic on the Bhimber Gali-Poonch Road was stopped following the incident and the entire area was cordoned off. People travelling to Poonch were advised to take the Mendhar route.
Response from political parties
Political parties condemned the attack.
In a tweet, Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said, "Strongly condemn the terror attack on an Army vehicle in Poonch District, Jammu & Kashmir. Our deepest condolences to the families of 5 Rashtriya Rifle bravehearts."
"Our prayers for the injured personnel. We are united against terrorism," he said.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the news of the martyrdom of five soldiers in the terrorist attack in Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir is very saddening.
"I pay my humble tributes to those heroes and express my deepest condolences to their bereaved families," Gandhi said.
Jammu and Kashmir BJP chief Ravinder Raina condemned the "cowardly attack by Pakistan-sponsored terrorists and said the killing of soldiers will be avenged.
National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah tweeted, "Terrible news of a terror attack in Poonch that claimed the lives of 5 army jawans in the line of duty. I unequivocally condemn this heinous attack & send my condolences to the loved ones of those killed today. May the souls of the departed rest in peace."
Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari said he was deeply saddened by the cowardly terrorist attack.
"My heartfelt condolences to the families of the brave hearts who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation. We stand with our armed forces and their families in this difficult time," Bukhari said in a tweet.
People's Conference chairman Sajad Lone described the attack dastardly.
"Terrible and tragic news of the attack on an army vehicle and five fatalities. Strongly condemn this dastardly act of terror by cowards. The scourge of violence and terror tragically perseveres and refuses to go," Lone said on Twitter.
(With PTI Inputs)